How Many Reps and Sets Should I Do?

Learn everything there is to know about reps and sets in a weight training routine so you can take your muscle-building gains to the next level.

How Many Reps and Sets Should I Do?
Photo by Gene Jeter / Unsplash
8 min. read 5/13/2022, 7:59 PM

When it comes to working out, the common saying “work smarter, not harder” doesn’t really apply – you need to work both smarter and harder. By working hard, it’s clear that you need to put in the effort and actually give it your best if you want to achieve your goals. But what does it mean to work smarter? Well, it’s knowing what to do instead of just winging it!

A huge part of a fitness routine is numbers. How many times a week you train, how many exercises you include in your routine, how much weight you will be lifting, and so on. Today, we’ll be talking about the volume of your workouts, also known as the number of reps and sets that you’ll be performing during each exercise.

Knowing exactly how many reps and sets you should be doing depending on your training routine is key to an efficient workout session, not only to keep your gains high and your goals closer, but also to avoid any injuries. So keep reading to know more about the different weightlifting goals and how you should be approaching them!

How many reps should I do?

A rep, or repetition, is when you go through an exercise full range of motion and back to the starting position. Performing one rep means performing the exercise one time, such as doing a single squat by lowering yourself to the floor and back up.

During your workouts, you perform several reps of different exercises to get your muscles fired up and closer to that body shape that you’re dreaming of. The thing is, the number of reps that you should do will vary according to which specific goal you’re after. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of thing!

So, to know how many reps you should be doing to get the most out of your workouts, you need to be more specific with your goals. Are you weightlifting to increase your muscle size, your endurance, or your strength?

Read below so you can find out how many reps each goal requires to get the best results:

Training to improve strength

Muscle strength is a crucial part of any fitness journey, particularly if you’re dealing with weights because you want to be able to lift safely and efficiently. Weightlifting is often referred to as strength training because, no matter what your particular fitness goal is, you will always gain strength in the process.

If you’re specifically focusing on building strength and power and not so much endurance or muscle size, then you should keep your rep range at the lower level. Why? Because, ideally, you will be lifting heavy weights that are demanding to your muscles, so keeping your reps low will ensure that you’re taking your muscles to the limit without straining them.

The average rep range for strength training is around 1-6 reps. Whether you do just one rep or go up to six reps will depend on the amount of weight used, so be careful when choosing. Keep your current fitness level in mind at all times and don’t try to push yourself further than you’re physically able to, or you won’t be able to lift at all!

Additionally, because you’re putting your muscles under so much stress in order to build their strength, your body will get fatigued pretty quickly. To make sure you’re able to finish your sets without losing your form, keep your rest periods higher, around 2-5 minutes between sets, so your muscles can recover and get ready for the next set properly.

Training to improve size

If you’re on a weightlifting journey because you’re looking to increase the size of your muscles for a more sculpted physique, your fitness path will be through hypertrophy.

Hypertrophy refers to the increase in muscle mass through muscle tension, and it’s done by using a lower weight and higher reps. This is so your muscles can go through the full range of motion several times in order to completely challenge and exhaust them, micro-tearing your muscles in the process so your body can build new muscle tissue on top.

What do we mean by higher reps? Well, on average, an effective rep range for increasing muscle size will be around 8-12 reps. So, around twice the number of reps you would do to increase muscle strength, but with a lighter weight so that you’re able to finish your workout with good form and without injuring yourself.

Because this technique is less demanding on your muscles in terms of stress but you’re still after those microtears we talked about earlier, your resting times should be shorter. After each set, rest around 1-2 minutes, which should be enough to catch your breath without losing peak muscle activation.

Training to improve endurance

When you’re training for muscular endurance, you’re essentially training your muscles to be able to efficiently perform for extended periods. This isn’t only being able to resist for the duration of the activity but also doing so safely and comfortably.

Endurance is often associated with cardio and training for activities such as marathons and cycling, but weightlifting for endurance is also perfectly doable and it’s incredibly useful for your fitness journey! Being able to endure training for longer periods means that you can get a lot more from your workouts than someone whose endurance is on the lower side.

Because you’re training to stay active for longer, your rep range will be higher to match that goal. Performing around 15-20 reps or more is the average for endurance training, focusing completely on how many reps you can do instead of how much weight you can lift. High reps mean that your weight should be lighter, even more than with size training, because you want to be able to perform a lot of reps during your session.

And because you want to keep your muscles constantly moving to test and improve their endurance, your rest times will be the shortest out of the three goals. Resting for around 30 seconds to one minute is ideal, but you can rest for a little bit longer if you feel like to need a break. With time, your muscles will get used to the constant work and you’ll be able to keep your resting times shorter.

How many sets should I do?

Now that you know the ideal rep range for each weightlifting goal, let’s see how many times you should perform that group of reps during your workout. This is known as a set, and even though the number of reps might vary significantly between goals, the number of sets actually doesn’t!

While you might choose to do more or fewer sets depending on the weight that you choose and the number of reps that you do according to that weight, there is an ideal set range for all weightlifting goals and that is around 3-5 sets. The exact number will depend on what you’re doing at the moment and how exhausted your muscles are at that point of your workout, but this is the average set range for most active lifters.

Sets are essentially the weightlifter’s way of putting reps and weight to the test. If you choose the appropriate number of reps and amount of weight for your specific goal, performing 3-5 sets should be enough to get the desired results. If somehow you feel like you’re doing too much, or not enough, focus on increasing or decreasing your reps or your weight first instead of the number of sets.

Let’s recap:

  • If your goal is improving your strength, perform 3-5 sets of 1-6 reps each.
  • If your goal is improving your size, perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps each.
  • If your goal is improving your endurance, perform 3-5 sets of 15-20+ reps each.

Remember, the important part when you’re resistance training is to listen to your body. If you’re training to increase your strength and you feel like doing three sets of six reps each is too much, consider playing with the numbers! Maybe your weight is too heavy, or you need to decrease the number of reps a little bit to get through your workout safely until you’ve built enough strength.

Stick to the recommendations but prioritize variety

Knowing how many sets and reps to build muscle is important, but any effective muscle-building routine will also have other different aspects to it. Ideally, you should use both light and heavy weights during your workouts, as well as a variety of different exercises so you can challenge your muscles from every angle possible. Both isolation and unilateral exercises are great for targeting specific areas, and compound movements are ideal for overall strength and mobility!

If creating your own training routine sounds too complicated or you just don’t have the time, let Iulia do it for you! The One Fitness app features weekly goal-focused workout plans created by Iulia herself to help you get closer to your weightlifting goals, whether you want to build strength, endurance, size, or all three – and more! Try your first workout for free by downloading the One Fitness app, choosing a goal, and starting your first workout with Iulia - no subscription required!